University of Wisconsin–Madison

Patrick Sheehan’s Career Journey to the Administrative Transformation Program

Patrick SheehanIn the role of HR Core Team Lead on the Administrative Transformation Program (ATP), Patrick is responsible for leading the HR Core and Design Teams, which are tasked with developing recommendations for revised business processes, roles, accountability structures, and secondary systems.

How did he get here?

Patrick earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Santa Clara University, and his Juris Doctorate (JD) and MBA from Willamette University where he specialized in employment law and human resources management.  He has been with UW–Madison for almost 10 years.

Patrick relayed that he had no clue what he’d be doing after graduation when he applied to law school. “I just enjoyed—and still enjoy—reading cases about people and analyzing the legal arguments surrounding the issues,” he said.  He followed what he enjoyed.

During law school, Patrick served as an HR policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Transportation and law clerk for the Oregon School Boards Association. After graduating from law school, he began his career as an HR director for a mid-sized suburban school district. He was lured to UW–Madison by a posting for an employment relations (ER) coordinator position in Classified Human Resources (which is called University Staff today). Patrick explained that he was interested in the opportunity to engage with employees in the numerous labor unions. He was also drawn to the diversity of issues presented by an R1 higher education institution. Shortly after hire, he was quickly met by monumental changes presented by Act 10 and the de-certification of almost all of the University’s labor unions. Patrick’s position subsequently developed into an employment relations chief position overseeing all classified ER issues.

In 2015, Patrick became the director of the newly developed Workforce Relations (WR) Team in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). In this role, he oversaw WR activities for academic and university staff, as well as for faculty members and graduate assistants. In 2018, he became the director of Talent Acquisition and Retention, overseeing the Talent Recruitment and Engagement (TRE) and WR teams, as well as the Administrative Services Unit (ASU).

On April 27, 2019, Mark Walters announced that Patrick Sheehan agreed to take on the role of HR Core Team Lead.  Mark stated that Patrick “is uniquely suited to lead these efforts after successfully working in several roles in OHR. [He] has built a strong reputation as a collaborator, strategic partner, listener and problem solver. These are crucial skills for the ATP Lead positions.”

What was the impetus for leaving the director position for an “unknown”?

Patrick explained that the challenge with ATP affords a “once-in-a-career opportunity” to reimagine our HR roles, responsibilities, and processes, in addition to the technology underpinning these functions. He hopes to collaborate with HR Reps and stakeholders throughout UW System to simplify and streamline HR processes so that “we can jointly develop a framework which can be nimble enough to accommodate future change, while minimizing the administrative burdens that currently weigh down HR Reps and others who engage in HR functions across the System.”

What drew Patrick to the ATP role in particular?

Patrick explained that he is excited about the Administrative Transformation Program because it puts people and processes first—and doesn’t center primarily around the technology. “Since I am not super technologically-savvy,” he said, “This is a good thing!”

In his first six months on the ATP Team, Patrick said that he has learned so much more than he previously understood, not only about our HR processes at UW–Madison, but also about current challenges and obstacles that we all struggle with across the UW System, as well as in Finance and Research. He acknowledged that he wasn’t familiar with the broad range of obstacles before beginning to work on this program.

Patrick elaborated: “I hope that at the conclusion of this project, our benefits, payroll, recruitment, hiring and workforce relations efforts will flow more smoothly…that it will be easier for employees to complete their work in a timely and accurate way, enable campus staff to advance in their careers and between departments and divisions…and that it will be easier to provide training and developmental opportunities for staff members across UW System.”

What skill sets are required for Patrick’s new role and how are they different than those required for Talent Acquisition and Retention and WR leadership?

Patrick explained that his role as director of Talent Acquisition and Retention and the WR Team actually prepared him for his current role in ATP.

“A lot of HR work requires the ability to understand and apply policy—not just the language, but also the intent behind the language—in order to apply it in the workplace,” he said.  “It also requires excellent customer service, combined with confidentiality, patience, doing more listening than speaking, asking lots of clarifying questions, and the ability to balance multiple perspectives—typically that of the employee as well as employer—while seeking fairness and equity in the workplace throughout the work.”

Leadership in HR often requires dealing with extremely sensitive matters in a diplomatic manner, discussing difficult, sometimes controversial, issues with campus leaders, and helping them to reach appropriate decisions for their divisions and the campus. It also requires ensuring that issues are treated in a consistent manner, which sometimes requires making difficult or unpopular decisions. In the end, HR work requires excellent customer service, being solutions-focused, and being willing to explore multiple possible options to resolve an issue—and to do this creatively.

The role in ATP requires close collaboration with stakeholders, including individuals who initiate transactions, those who review and approve requests, and those who are affected by final outcomes. Additionally, because there are likely going to be compromises between the current state and our future processes, the role will require excellent communication skills and the ability to identify stakeholder interests and propose solutions that will meet core business needs.

What’s Patrick’s advice for someone in HR wanting to take a leap into something unknown but not sure if it’s the right path? Any tips for discerning what’s right?

Patrick laughed: “I overthink! I don’t know that my advice would be helpful. Perhaps ask lots of questions, do research, and select a supportive boss—not just a particular title or set of duties. Know that a successful career isn’t necessarily in a straight line, but often incorporates a few detours which lend valuable perspective through those experiences.”

Lastly, what is the most recent or significant book Patrick has read?

A work-related book that Patrick has been recommending is Principles by Ray Dalio. It was on Bill Gates’ book list last year. Patrick elaborated: “The biographical section could be skimmed, but the second and third sections of the book regarding the principles are very interesting. The book stresses the value of culture in an organization; the importance of setting goals; being real about the problems that you are encountering; and being passionate about reaching your objectives. I recommend it!”

You can hear more from Patrick at this December’s HR@UW Conference, during which he will co-present with ATP team members, Moira Perez and Nicholas Tincher, in a session entitled: “The Administrative Transformation Program: What is it and what can we expect from this change.” Don’t miss! Register now.

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